The reason there is still a market for books on clutter-clearing is so many people are still buried in clutter. There’s another reason behind that, and that is that most of these books are written by methodical people who think the process is simple. Just get four boxes and start sorting! Tracy McCubbin knows better. Making Space, Clutter Free arose from years of working directly with people and understanding why almost everyone finds the process so emotionally challenging.
Making Space, Clutter Free is built around seven “Clutter Blocks.” I have seen all of these in play with my own clients (and many of them I have experienced myself). No amount of physical effort, no amount of bins or tubs or boxes, no approach is going to work until these blocks are identified and acknowledged.
The good news is that, in my experience, this emotional work can be done anywhere, at any time, and you don’t have to have a duster in your hand to do it. It’s much easier to do the inner work and go in prepared, having developed the interior certainty that it’s definitely time for this stuff to go.
Making Space, Clutter Free is the book to read if you’re still stuck, if you’re working through someone else’s things, if you’re having power struggles with your family, basically in any situation in which the whole “spark joy” thing isn’t working.
We use shopping as a shorthand for doing the work.
We imbue objects with tremendous power.
“I can love and hold their memory and still let go of their things.”
Instead of thinking of buying the item, think of buying the option of that item.
Invariably, these people are kicking the clutter can down the road because they don’t trust their judgement.
None of us want to be contributing to landfills, but that is no reason to let your home become one.
Don’t give your power away by thinking you need someone else to show up and get this done.
As so often happens, I sit down to write and a random person wants to strike up a conversation. I figure I might as well hear this guy out, at least for a few minutes, because sometimes I can get a good story out of it.
I’ve guessed right.
Go ahead and try to tell people “I’m busy” or “trying to get some work done” or “on deadline.” This goes through some kind of internal translator, like a babbelfish, and after it goes through a few loop-de-loops, what they hear is “please tell me your life story” or “we are best friends now” or “why yes, I do give out free therapy.” I figure new writing material is the least I can expect as a fair trade for the imposition on my time.
This particular character who has wandered into my work zone is supposedly an Army ranger and combat medic. Do I have verification of this claim, no I do not, but then I could counterclaim that he was a circus clown or a bank teller and nobody would be the wiser.
After rambling a bit, he suddenly pops out with this idea that writing is hard, and there should be a writing school similar to ranger training.
WRITE A CHAPTER IN THE NEXT HOUR OR YOU’RE OUT!
Hmm, I say, that’s actually a really good idea. There’s your movie if you want to write your own screenplay.
We start elaborating on this together.
Apparently ranger school involves a lot of things like running up and down a hill in the jungle, or doing pull-ups for many hours. What would be the parallel for this in the world of notebooks and keyboards?
You’re sitting next to your friend, shackled together at the ankle. If you don’t meet your word count quota for the day, your friend dies.
You’re sitting at your keyboard with someone standing next to you, holding a gun to your head.
Okay, that probably doesn’t happen in real ranger school, but why not?
I have to admit, I’d watch this movie.
The truth is that the physical act of writing is easy enough that almost every adult and child in our culture can do it. Technically. People will write a thousand words just to give out a one-star product review. The madder they are, the more they’ll write, and heaven forfend if some restaurant doesn’t meet their expectations.
Something weird happens to interfere, and many of those who want to write start thinking that they can’t.
The point of a grueling experience like ranger school is that people sign up for it voluntarily because they’re looking for the biggest possible challenge. They want to find out if they’ve got the right stuff. They know they’ll come out the other side either fitter than they’ve ever been, or not. There’s no in-between state. Pass/fail.
It’s also over quickly.
Setting oneself up as a writer can be drawn out, dragged out over months and years. We look at someone like Henry Roth, who published a critically acclaimed novel at age 28, suffered writer’s block for 45 years, spent 15 years on his next book, and finally published again after a 60-year gap.
Are there any other careers that would torment people with visions of what might have been?
Someone who wanted a career of military service might be haunted by that sense of missed opportunity, but they could probably accept after sixty years that it wasn’t going to happen. Writing isn’t that way.
Carpenter’s block is probably a kind of tool. (Checking) Yes, and not only that, apparently it’s also a good thing in this little game called Minecraft.
A plumber with a block probably has a tool or some kind of chemical to drain it.
Other professions take obstacles in stride. What is it about writing that feels different?
What if there was in fact a school for it? What if there was a kind of boot camp that taught wannabe writers (and maybe other artists) how to deal with resistance? How to get around it?
When I sat down today, I didn’t know what I was going to write about. Really I wanted a nap. I figured it would be good discipline to show up, sit down, and see what happened. If all I did was edit and format a few pieces, that would be progress.
I physically sat down and a story came to me.
At this moment, the same wandering character is appealing for my attention from the next table. I’ve done my part for the community by giving this person fifteen minutes of my best listening skills, and now I feel justified in clocking out.
What I’ve done is to turn a distraction into a... something. An anecdote. I have a clear image in my mind of this character, a surf-talking old soldier who thinks that putting a shackle on your ankle might help you beat writer’s block. I have three pages of content. I have something that might eventually turn into something.
Maybe this same person has a list of stories that might turn into incredible action films. Maybe if he sat down and wrote up some of his personal experience, he could be a hit machine. Maybe he’ll go off and advertise a super hardcore writer’s workshop.
Maybe someone will read this and realize, all you really need to do is sit down and keep working until you’ve produced something, no drill instructor required.
He looked lost. He asked us, “Do you know this area?”
He almost missed the window of kismet because he wasn’t asking the right question.
“Where are you trying to go?” I asked, assuming GPS could help us figure it out.
Veggie Grill, he said, and he was in luck, because that’s where we were going. Follow us, we’ll show you the way!
The first layer of the story: This nice man is picking up something for dinner for his buddy, who is at work.
Oh, and by the way, he’s never been here before, what should he order?
The second layer of the story: This nice man has just been put on an insulin pump, after less than a year of rapid weight gain. He shows it to us. He’s the kind of workaholic who will go twelve hours on a cup of coffee, and then eat a bag of fast food in the car because he got called in to cover someone else’s shift.
Changing jobs or getting a promotion are fairly common causes of sudden weight gain.
We see it all the time. Someone will beat themselves up for gaining weight, when it’s a natural and predictable result of their punishing schedule. Especially in a caring profession, like nursing, there can be a tendency to see self-care as somehow robbing others. How can I do things like, say, eat meals or sleep, when there are people who need me??
One way to reframe this is that self-care is a way of making sure that you yourself don’t become the patient. How can you help someone if you collapse or wind up in a hospital bed yourself?
Our new friend didn’t seem to think much of his own insulin pump. Meanwhile, if someone *else* got one he would probably be all sympathy, fussing over them and trying to make sure *they* had everything they needed.
Our position is that we must care for ourselves because we consider ourselves first responders. We never want to be someone else’s crisis if we can avoid it. We’ve figured out what we needed to do in order to fit healthy meals into our extremely busy schedules. If others are curious about what we’re doing or why we’re doing it, we’re happy to answer their questions.
This is how it happened when we met the man with the insulin pump. First he asked us how to find the restaurant. Then he asked what we would recommend. We saw this as an opportunity, and we put our strategy into play.
We take turns, depending on who is asking and how they present their issue. I immediately passed this one on to my husband because he had more credibility in this case than I did.
One big dude to another, two tall and large-framed men of about the same age, both of whom look like they have a background in sports, and most likely impact sports such as football. Check, check, check.
“I used to weigh 305”
Head swivel: YOU DID???
Most people, and by “most” I include health professionals, teachers, parents, and other working adults, most people have no idea how to “eat healthy.” They are absolutely bewildered by competing plans and mutually exclusive directives. They have no idea where to start sifting through reams of information, misinformation, and disinformation.
I believe all of this will have changed dramatically over the next twenty years. A combination of big data, wearable tech, advances in research and medical devices, and snack marketing will make it much simpler and more straightforward for people to eat customized healthy diets. I also think that eventually, gamers will be the fittest athletes, but that’s a futurist article for another time. For today, everyone is as confused as possible. It helps a lot to meet someone who has something in common with you, and to hear them say, This is what worked for us.
We’ve lost a hundred pounds between us, and we’re middle-aged.
They’re surprised because we don’t look like we did fifteen years ago. Nobody believes either of us was formerly obese.
We know a few dozen diabetics. We also know a bunch of people on insulin pumps and/or CPAPs or half a dozen prescriptions, and several with foot-long incisions down their torsos. Sadly, we’ve also lost quite a few friends our age who had some of these health issues, or others, people who should by rights have had decades left ahead of them. We’ll mind our own business when it comes to issues like saving for retirement or estate planning, but here, we’ll share as long as someone keeps asking questions. We like this guy and we want him to have a better outcome than our lost friends.
The basic rundown my husband gave the man with the insulin pump was, yes, eating plant-based helps “guys like us.” We didn’t go into details, but he could have pulled out his phone and shared his recent lab results, including blood pressure, resting heart rate, glucose levels, and the rest. He could have shared that at 52 years of age, he doesn’t need any prescription medication. The question on the table was sustained weight loss, and yes, ten or twelve years of a 95% plant-based diet has successfully done that for my hubby, a man who used to eat a lot of Double-Doubles.
In a roughly ten-minute conversation, this is what he told him, one man to another:
It started with Weight Watchers. I learned how to track points and avoid the foods with the highest points, like cheese. One ounce of cheese was 1/6 of my points for the entire day, and it wasn’t worth it. I memorized the list of zero-point foods, like, you can eat an entire cabbage or a head of broccoli for zero points!
This is what I told him, one fitness coach to one willing listener:
Eat four cups of vegetables a day, and eat soup, any soup that isn’t cream-based. Get one of those four-cup Pyrex measuring cups and fill it full of veggies every day. Make sure you eat something at least every four hours and pack your lunch bag ahead of time, breakfast, lunch, and snacks for the whole day.
We have a lot of practice at this conversation, my husband and I, because it comes up a lot. We’re unusually fit for people of our age. That will most likely be even more true in another ten years than it is today. We found a way to avoid the pitfalls of others around us, like going hungry all day and grabbing fast food every night because we’re too exhausted to do anything else. Even more than that, we’ve found a way to avoid winding up on prescription drugs or medical devices, something that is distressingly common.
“You can get off that thing,” we told the man with the insulin pump, “and it doesn’t even have to take very long.” He has every motivation to listen hard and then try it for himself.
He opened the box. He closed it again. He opened it. He closed it.
This went on, from time to time, for nearly ten years.
I barely gave it any thought. When the box turned up in our lives, we had tons of storage. Not only did we have a walk-in closet, we had an office and a two-car garage with a loft. I doubt I even knew where this box was kept.
It wasn’t until we downsized for the fourth or fifth time that the box had nowhere to go. It sat in our bedroom for months. I had to move it over and over again just to clean the floor. Time to do something.
Normally I wouldn’t interfere. Someone else’s box of memories is their business, not mine (unless they ask me for help). Sometimes this stuff takes time to process. In this case, though, I knew the box was full of medals and ribbons and other marks of achievement. I truly couldn’t understand why anyone would hesitate to “deal with” what looked very much like a box full of success.
I asked him about it.
“It feels like a moral hazard,” he said.
What, to acknowledge that you worked really hard for several years? That participating in these things built you into the person you are today? That the values that earned you these trophies are values you still hold forty years later?
It’s okay to admit that you worked hard and you did a good job!
This whole situation was hilarious to me. I work with chronically disorganized people, and almost always their situation stems from accumulated trauma. They have trouble sorting their stuff, partly for cognitive reasons, partly because it physically wears them out, but mostly because it’s sad.
I share some of this to help people see their issue from a more clinically removed perspective. Putting things in the third person or giving some other type of emotional distance can often help them to make decisions. It can be easier if you see yourself as Someone, a generic person facing a slightly more abstract dilemma. Hmm. What should Person X do about Box Y and Box Z?
I also like to try to help my people see themselves as the endearing characters they so often are.
Here before you is a grown man, afraid that admitting he was once pretty good at swimming might turn him arrogant or vain.
Usually, when I start probing into how someone feels about a particular box of clutter, I’ll venture a version that doesn’t quite fit. I might share how I think I might feel in that situation, or I might mention a different client’s situation. The reason I do that is that it helps the person in front of me right now to get more specific. No, what I said isn’t how they feel at all. It’s actually...
Something quite unique, as it turns out!
The reason someone keeps a fork or a pencil or a set of keys is pretty consistent. “I need it.” If we get rid of these utilitarian objects, we’ll just have to replace them. We don’t have to explain why we have towels, unless we have like a thousand towels.
It’s much more interesting when someone explains why they have something that nobody else has, or why their emotional reaction is different than anyone else’s.
Do other people have boxes full of trophies or medals or ribbons or newspaper clippings of all the times local reporters interviewed them? I sure don’t! I only won my first trophy a little over a year ago.
It turns out that the reason the box was so hard to open was because of where it came from. My mother-in-law presented it to my husband a few years before her death, when her cancer came back. It was impossible to detach the contents of the box from their archivist.
She was so proud of you, I said. She must have shown all of this stuff to all her friends.
I was wrong about this box and its contents. It wasn’t entirely full of ribbons and medals. There were also quite a lot of photos, some of them framed. And? Homework and artwork from first grade on.
A lot is happening during the sorting of an archive like this. There are the rushes of various emotions, with the knowledge that at least some of them will be surprise sneaker waves. There are policy decisions: what to keep, what not to keep, and what do we do with it all? Where does it go?
What do we do with the stuff we want to keep? Frame or display it? Scan it? If we digitize it, do we also keep the originals?
Is there anything we should send to someone else? (Example: a funny newspaper photo attributing my husband’s name to another boy).
What do we do with the stuff that’s going away? Recycle it? Throw it in the trash? Shred it? Burn it?
The main thing I recommend, after sorting it all, is to set it aside until the next day, when all the emotions that have been stirred up have time to settle a bit.
My position on my husband’s box of stuff was that he should keep most of it, at least long enough to show his interns. They would really get a kick out of the pictures of him with a mullet! I also recused myself, because I had sorted, scanned, and burned my own stuff several years prior.
(That’s the problem: the two of us did that ritual together, going through stuff from our divorces, but this box wasn’t around at the time).
This is what he actually did. He kept the photos and the ribbons and medals. He elected to throw out the homework, with one exception.
Apparently, at some time back in the 1970s, my man had set aside a brain teaser and never finished it. Never mind that he has a master’s degree. He wasn’t going to let this incomplete homework assignment hang on as an open loop. He sat back and figured out the puzzle.
It took him ten minutes, which to me legitimated how challenging the question was. It seemed fair to me that a child would struggle if an adult aerospace engineer did.
“You know you’re allowed to have been a kid, right? You can’t blame yourself for not being grown up yet.”
I get it, though. Few of us can forgive ourselves for being young and making a young person’s mistakes. We judge our child-selves for not being adults yet, for not knowing how to make the decisions we would make today.
This is why it’s so hard to let go, because we can’t forgive ourselves even for being little children. We can’t be proud of ourselves even when we win.
I’ve been thinking about strategy lately, and I am coming to the conclusion that not everyone knows the difference between a plan and a strategy. The reason I think this is that most people get upset when their plans are disrupted. A good strategy begins with the assumption that the disruptions will arrive in a continual stream.
When I was young and poor, I never felt like I could make much in the way of plans, much less strategy. I didn’t know it, but my overall strategy was, Get the rent paid this month, somehow or other. That was it, that was the whole thing. I had few policies or systems in place. Little about my life was intentional. I thought that was because stuff kept happening to me.
I didn’t realize that chaos is the natural result of lack of a plan.
This is one of the interesting things I have noticed about chronic disorganization. My disorganized households are similar in many ways and unique in others. For instance, one household has laundry covering most of the floor, yet the kitchen is sparkling clean every day. Another has dirty dishes everywhere 99% of the time, yet the laundry gets washed, folded, and put away like clockwork. Another house looks immaculate, yet there are two storage units stuffed to the rafters and they’re going broke, and of course the fourth house is the total package of hoarding and squalor.
These different outcomes arise naturally from whatever it is that each individual does in default mode.
Default mode is its own type of strategy. It’s the thing we’ve found that works if we keep doing it, at least in the short term.
I used to have a roommate. He had a friend he would bring over, an obnoxious guy who would insult my housekeeping yet keep coming back. This guy had a plan where he would go to various drive-thru restaurants and claim his order had been messed up. He had never actually ordered or paid for anything; it was a scam. He figured if he threw a big enough fit, they would give him what he wanted just to get rid of him. In this manner he would ask his associates what they wanted, and day after day he would scam them bags of hot fast food. (Never me, because I was already a vegetarian and also because I wanted nothing to do with that guy). Eventually he had become recognizable at every place in our area and that plan quit working.
It should not have surprised me that the roommate who kept bringing over the scam artist would wind up living off me rent-free for months, until my boyfriend made me kick him out.
I got into situations like these when I was young and poor because I did not understand much about other people’s motivations. I wasn’t very good at recognizing patterns of behavior. I assumed that other people were honest and well-meaning.
The truth is that they usually are; they do not set out to trick or defraud other people, unlike the scumbag fast food scammer. They don’t consciously intend to cause problems. Problems like not “being able to pay” the rent are the unintentional results.
Results of what?
A plan that does not include enough fallback options.
In other words, a plan that is not a strategy.
After my divorce, I spent quite a lot of time reading self-help books and writing hundreds of pages in my journal. I wanted to figure out how I had gotten myself into that situation. Why had I trusted someone who was untrustworthy? How had I missed what other people later told me were obvious red flags?
One of the conclusions I came to was that I needed to be more selective in who I trusted and how I would vet the people I allowed into my social orbit. I would never tolerate having someone like the fast food scammer in my home again.
It was extremely difficult for me to come to terms with this, and it took a few years, but finally I concluded that I couldn’t blame anyone but myself for the financial ruin that followed my divorce. I had wanted to tell myself that it was someone else’s behavior that “got me into this mess,” but the truth was, it *was* my behavior. I was “the kind of person” who would trust an untrustworthy person. I was the kind of person who signed a lease and set up accounts with an untrustworthy person, and that therefore made me untrustworthy as well.
If I rent a motel room, and I then invite someone into the room who starts spraying ketchup everywhere, then I am clearly liable for the mess even though I myself did not make the mess.
This burned me up, but once I made the connection I couldn’t disagree with myself. If I have one set of values, and the people around me have a different and incompatible set of values, then I am in effect living their values instead of my own. How would anyone know any different about me, other than my associations and my behavior?
I started to make the connection between my results and my state of being in constant reaction mode. One crisis after another. I had always felt that it was unfair that something always seemed to be going wrong in my life. Gradually I started to realize that I needed to have some kind of plan in place in order to avoid these crises.
The first part of my new life strategy: Stay away from scam artists, jerks, criminals, or other lowlifes.
I also realized that a huge part of avoiding untrustworthy people was to build more financial security into my life. I needed to be in a position to turn away bad roommates, avoid being on road trips with sketchy people, and generally make sure I only had to share housing and transportation with people who were reliable and honest.
This was what led me to start obsessively reading personal finance books at the public library. I wanted to learn everything I could so I could avoid the worst parts about being poor, which starts with having criminals for neighbors and roommates. I also wanted to avoid going hungry, not being able to go to the doctor, and not being able to pay my rent or my bills.
Reading all those free books gradually helped to teach me how to put a basic plan into place. More importantly, these books helped to teach me what questions to ask and how to start thinking strategically.
My life as an educated investor is wildly, radically different than my life was as a poor twenty-something. I have been in worse and scarier situations, but I have been able to resolve them because I am better at problem solving and critical thinking. It’s not so much that having money solves a lot of problems, although IT DOES; it’s that the ability to think strategically can solve many types of problems, including lack of money.
Start Now. Get Perfect Later. This is such an effective book that the title alone is its own philosophy. The cover could be posted on the wall above a lot of desks. While the rest of us are contemplating our personal struggles with productivity, Rob Moore has probably already submitted the outline for his next book.
What differentiates SNGPL from other books on procrastination is that it focuses a great deal on how to become more decisive and how to think strategically. This is a very intriguing take. Procrastination research in the academic world right now is revolving around mood repair and recognizing the emotional roots of resistance. Moore is sharing his approach, what worked for him, and I think it would also be an improvement for many of us fellow procrastinators.
Rethink what you are doing and why you are doing it. Teach yourself to be more confident in your decisions.
I’m with him on this, and I think I have a similar mindset. There is a stripe of person, the natural entrepreneur, who is full of ideas and drive but needs a certain amount of structure in order to get anything done. Not just building systems, but learning what is involved in creating an effective system in the first place, that’s the missing piece.
This book has the ring of truth. Bias toward action is the premise behind the exhortation to Start Now, Get Perfect Later. I can attest to much of this material from experience, which is motivating me to pay close attention and try the rest. Peek into the mind of someone who is doing things a bit differently, and ask yourself, wouldn’t it be better just to start now?
Delaying general admin and jobs with no financial or residual benefit, in favour of the most important or highest-value task, is just plain smart.
Even procrastinating is a step into the unknown, as you don’t know what will happen when you put off a decision.
As you make faster, better and harder decisions, you get better at making faster, better and harder decisions.
Problem solvers rule the world.
Friends first. Why is this such a mystery?
I know all sorts of fun, smart, successful, attractive people who can’t figure out why they are single, and neither can I... except that I can. I know why.
For some reason, a lot of people seem to think that dating exists under completely different rules than all their other friendships. It’s some mystical exception, alone among every other aspect of their social life.
It isn’t! That’s the secret!
Everything you know about making friends is true about dating, too.
I’ve been in the same relationship for long enough now that other women are like, “You’re so lucky! You’re so lucky you found someone like him!”
This is true. It’s also a fundamental misunderstanding of how this stuff works.
I didn’t find out until recently - like, THIS YEAR recently - that my hubby made a formal decision to be “friends first” in his next relationship. He didn’t feel like he and his ex were really friends. They sort of jumped into a relationship and got on with the business of parenting and making financial decisions together. After they split, he thought it out and realized that the lack of friendship was most likely the missing piece.
Me? I only ever dated guys if I could have a real conversation with them. What else could I possibly have been attracted to in a person?
I always saw dating as a shortcut to learning tons of new things. I counted on my boyfriends to introduce me to their favorite books and movies, their favorite bands, and all their hobbies. I also liked meeting their friends, especially their female friends, and I made an effort to befriend their roommates, too.
I can thank the various gentlemen of my past for introducing me to entire new cuisines and musical genres, teaching me to play games, taking me to their favorite campsites, and so much else. What fun!
As I got older, all of this accumulated culture exchange started to make me more attractive as a date and a partner, too. Whatever else you can say about me, I am incomparably good at restaurant recommendations. If I take someone out, they’ll still be going to that place ten years later. If I take the time to teach someone a card game, they’ll go out and teach it to all their friends the next weekend. Fun spreads quickly.
My hubby, divorced single dad, put it out there that he wanted to date someone who felt like his friend. I had no idea! I just showed up, being my same old self.
Ask his ex if you don’t believe me, but he wasn’t a turnkey solution. He wasn’t “perfect husband, just add water.” You can’t order these guys up out of a catalog.
What made him perfect for me was a process of time and communication. I customized him, just as he was customizing me. We built a little world for ourselves out of inside jokes and catchphrases, out of tens of thousands of conversations and references.
This is why he believes that our marriage can never be replaced to a mathematical certainty. You can’t just go out and get another fifteen-year friendship. With every year that goes by, you are less and less likely to be able to rebuild something similar with someone else.
If our entire civilization were to go through some sort of wormhole, and on the other end a bunch of people had been swapped around, it would never work. I can’t be this type of wife to some random dude, and my husband would only be perfect for me, personally.
True, we do sweet things for each other all the time. We make each other special breakfasts and lunches. We plan surprises for each other. We have enviably cute traditions in our marriage. They aren’t one-size-fits-all, though. What’s cute and sweet is that we made it all up. We imagined ourselves into reality.
I married my husband because he’s the most interesting man I’ve ever met. Interesting to *me* though. Another woman wouldn’t be all that interested in marrying someone who is on business travel half the time, especially because he goes to some of the world’s most unglamorous locations. It’s not as fabulous as it sounds. If I went with him, I’d be stuck hanging around some mediocre hotel all day while he sat in a conference room for ten hours. Woo, right?
People always want to cherry-pick. We think we can imagine small pieces of someone else’s life for ourselves. We want just the juicy parts.
It’s easy to envy someone else’s ten-year marriage and think, “Ooh, I wish I had that.” You have to put in years of conversation first, though.
The thing is, I thought my husband was interesting and funny even when he was at a low point in his life. When I first met him, basically the only thing he could talk about was his ongoing custody battle. I was able to look past that because I had been divorced, too, and I could listen patiently. I could return the favor that my friends had returned to me, when I needed someone, and be present for him.
That’s another part of the friendship that supports the best marriages, the enviable ones. We’re such good friends because we’ve been there for each other. We’ve been to funerals together. We’ve cried on each other when our pets died. We’ve taken each other to the hospital. Quite a lot of our relationship has been stressful and cruddy, in fact, because a lot of life is that way. We’re friends because we have reason to trust each other, and we’re reliable because we owe each other a hundred ways.
I’m not sure, because I haven’t tried it, but I think other people may be expecting something different when they date. Maybe they’re going for someone who looks hot in their photos? Or someone with a great resume who can impress their friends? Maybe they have a long checklist because they basically want a personal butler/massage therapist? Maybe they have a romantic fantasy where the other person acts out a role similar to their favorite movie? I have no idea how I would go about a date-finding project like that.
All I can say is that I have a lot of platonic friends, and every now and then, one would cross the line into something more. The one I married was the one who was the most interesting to talk to and the one who made me laugh the hardest. As far as I can tell, those are the traits that will still interest me even when we’re eighty years old.
“I can tell the difference already,” he said. “You’re back up to a seven.”
I’m six weeks into my post-surgery recovery plan, long enough to notice some changes. He’s been out of town just long enough to see that things have changed since he left.
These aren’t physical changes in *me* - it’s everything else. The ripple effect.
I spent four days rearranging our apartment, including the contents of all our closets and cabinets. The place is gleaming from stem to stern. It’s the sort of thing I like to do as a surprise, or at least the sort of thing I like to do when I’m feeling energetic and upbeat.
On the opposite end, one of the first ways I can tell that I’m coming down with something is when I somehow don’t feel like I have enough energy to make the bed. It takes 45 seconds. I’m usually done before I’m even awake enough to realize I’ve done it. If this is disrupted for some reason, it’s a telltale sign that something is off.
I rate my mood and energy level on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 on the low end and 10 on the “someone I like is planning a wedding” end.
After I took up distance running, I started to realize that it had worked some impressive changes in me. Not in my physique per se, but in my general attitude toward life.
“It’s like my baseline mood when I was chronically ill was a 5, or a 4 when I had a migraine. Then when I got better, it was more like a 7. When I’m running it’s like... a 9!”
It’s true. When I’m running twenty or thirty miles a week, I feel like I’m getting ready to go to a parade or something. Everything seems simple or easy and I’m brimming over with fun ideas. I used to say I had so much energy, I felt like I could kick down a fence. Sometimes I would be running, and around the 45-minute mark I would just jog along with my arms over my head in victory. Sometimes I would burst into song.
Then I blew it. I overtrained and borked my ankle.
I had to quit running because I was in so much pain. I would wake up in the middle of the night because it would feel like someone was kicking me in the ankle with a cowboy boot. I had to wear a brace. I had two MRIs and I spent six months in physical therapy. I spent a truly stupid amount of time with my foot in a bucket full of ice cubes.
I was mad at myself and mad at my ankle and mad at asphalt and mad that we had to move away from the regional park where I used to train. I used to see other runners pass by and I felt like a dog on a leash, watching other dogs chase a frisbee.
I changed sports and started getting quite fit doing martial arts. There were physical changes, yes, a different type than the changes that happened when I took up running. It seems that if you dedicate yourself to any one type of training, you can tap into a certain variety of super powers.
Running gave me mood powers and endless energy.
Martial arts permanently removed my needle phobia and the white-knuckled anxiety I used to feel on airplanes. It helped me eliminate my stage fright. Martial arts gave me an extra dimension of executive presence. I finally learned to really use command tone, and my dog suddenly started paying a lot more attention when I spoke. I learned to make a convincing war face, a crazy expression than can quickly cause people to back up a step with little more than a widening of my eyes. My arms and shoulders bulked up. I found that I could suddenly intimidate big dudes twice my size. For superpowers, these are pretty excellent!
I missed the mood effects that I got from running, though.
Then I went through a rough patch. I had minor surgery that resulted in an incision right in the middle of my torso. I couldn’t twist, bend, sit up straight, or even move my arms much. After a month of doing hot compresses every two hours, I had to start a routine of changing bandages. This was all very tiresome, but it did provide a massive surge of motivation to start working out again as soon as I legitimately could.
I got back on the elliptical. We had to sell ours when we downsized, but there is one in our dinky apartment gym. Nobody is ever down there and I get the whole room to myself. I call it the “news machine.”
An hour a night.
The first few nights were rough. Not only had I not been working out, I had barely gotten off the couch in two months. I was out of breath and I wanted to quit after twenty minutes.
I know how to distract myself, though. I had a long news queue to work through. I focused on how much I wanted to “catch up on reading.” I only let myself do this type of reading during my workout. It felt like a reward. After the first week, it was more like playing a game than exercise.
I started getting a taste of the old post-workout glow. If I work out long enough at a high enough level of intensity, I can get an endorphin rush that lasts for two hours or more. It feels awesome, wipes out soreness and fatigue, and helps me sleep better.
I didn’t really notice the change as it happened, but over the next several weeks, my baseline mood and energy level started to improve too.
A couple of months ago, I was at a real low point. I couldn’t do much of anything, three courses of antibiotics made me sick and headachy, and my incision hurt. I would definitely have agreed that my mood hovered around a five most of the time.
Now I’m heading back in the direction where I like to be. I’m starting to feel like the person I think of as the “real me” - upbeat and cheerful. I’m ready to head into Phase Two, where I start running outdoors and enjoying the scenery, hunting for the payoff that keeps all distance runners inspired and motivated. A few months from now, I could be feeling like a nine every day again.
Nobody seems to know how to cook anymore, and that makes meal planning even more complicated when people’s schedules and requirements don’t line up. What if you’re eating different things, at different times, for different reasons, and you have different needs?
The second reason for a trashed, messy kitchen is when there are multiple people sharing it who eat meals at different times. It means the kitchen is almost continually in use, and that means nobody thinks that wiping down counters or scouring the sink is “their job.” (The first reason is that the home is ruled by Not Me).
Bulk cooking is one way around this. People can take turns being the bulk cook, or trading off between shopping, cleanup, and meal prep.
The other way is something that I just figured out.
A lot of families are out of sync because there are multiple adults (or teenagers) working various shifts, going to classes, or fitting in sports and other events. There can also be an issue with people fixing meals and then carrying them off to other parts of the house, leaving dirty dishes, smears, napkins, food packaging, and crumbs all over the place.
Fortunately for us, we don’t have this problem!
We have two problems: one, when his business travel and evening gym classes either do or don’t line up with nights when I have meetings; two, when one of us is cutting calories and the other is trying to bulk up.
Why are our fitness routines always out of sync? Who knows? It just seems to happen that way.
He’s on a diet; I’m training for a marathon.
He’s training for his blue belt; I’m trying to drop fifteen pounds.
One of us is recovering from a sports injury and the other has a full plate in one hand and a smoothie in the other.
We have a deal set up where we take turns cooking throughout the week. My nights are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday because those are his gym nights, especially on Friday when he does sparring and class back to back. Then he does Tuesday, Thursday, and whichever weekend night we don’t go to the movies.
The main complicating factor is that I often have a meeting on Wednesday nights, and also a teleconference on Mondays right in the middle of the cooking window.
The other is that I’m in a two-month window of cutting calories.
We have a set of six meal prep containers. Last year, we were bulk cooking and keeping these full. We would plan what we wanted in them, and we would each cook part of it. Maybe he would make five gallons of mashed potatoes and I would chop the vegetables, or he’d chop and I’d make a pan of cornbread. Even with both of us taking turns in our miniature kitchen, because we couldn’t both fit in there at the same time, we could turn it around in under an hour. That means one evening of cooking for four nights’ meals: that night plus the six servings that went into the freezer.
This only works if we’re eating the same things.
Or so I thought.
Suddenly it occurred to me that I could continue to hold my end up, cooking on the nights that are my turn, even if the meal that I’m cooking for someone who just did a two-hour workout is not the meal that I plan to eat.
It goes like this:
Cook two servings of ordinary dinner. Serve one steaming hot. Put the other into the meal prep container with its three neat divisions. Put the lid on it, label it, and put it in the freezer. Eat whatever is on the alternate plan.
The next night, he can make whatever he wants, with the option of freezing half.
Within six to twelve nights, all the meal prep containers are full, labeled, and stacked up in the freezer.
There are huge advantages to this method. On busy nights, you can grab a meal prep box and microwave it, or even bring it with you. If one of you is out of town, the other can enjoy a nice home-cooked meal without having to cook or clean up.
An under-appreciated aspect of rotating meal prep is that the containers are almost always either in the dishwasher or the freezer. That means you don’t need to set aside as much space in the kitchen cabinets to store them.
Another under-appreciated factor is that this method generates much less trash than buying packaged meals. The busier the household, the less likely anyone is to feel like they “have the time” to take out the garbage or sort recycling. Less trash, less squabbling.
Any system that makes sense will reduce chaos. Each system that a household puts into place eliminates a persistent problem, and usually a bunch of them. For instance, an evening routine makes an easier morning routine, and giving each person a get-ready chair makes it easier to find the most important objects. Having a meal prep routine simplifies the one thing that is most likely to happen when people are hangry and tired, which is trying to figure out what to eat for dinner. Last-minute hangry, tired meal planning has about a 99.9% chance of leading to unintended consequences, such as me trying to eat in a car and getting ketchup all over myself.
The single greatest question to ask when you are trying to Get Organized is, will this make life easier for Future Me or harder for Future Me? Often the thing that you do now to make life easier for yourself tomorrow only takes two minutes. Bulk cooking and meal prep take a little bit more planning than that, but they can support the utmost in complicated and busy lives. It’s possible to use this method even for a household of multiple adults who are constantly traveling, taking night classes, working overtime, and doing body transformation - even all at the same time.
My husband and I just found the ten-year financial plan we made together shortly before we decided to get married. I wrote about how that plan worked out (spoiler: we were 0.4% ahead of projection), and I wrote about how making a ten-year plan helped us make the decision to get married.
What I haven’t really shared is how we did it. How do we have that kind of talk (which we do regularly) and how do we do it without fighting?
This is where even a five-minute conversation can go well or badly, based on the entire structure of your relationship.
Whether you respect each other
Whether you’re willing to humor each other and listen to an unusual pitch
Whether you actually know what a “pitch” is
What emotional pitfalls either of you are likely to fall into
Note that this is the same whether you’re having a financial conversation with a roommate, travel buddy, business partner, sibling, parent, child, best friend, random stranger, or talking squirrel. The only real reason that it would be different when talking about money with your romantic partner is that you’re more likely to be sharing accounts.
Think that through. As far as the *duration* of your relationships, you may have a roommate, colleague, or bestie in your life far longer than you’ll have a husband or wife. (Or talking squirrel, for that matter. Regular squirrels only have a lifespan of about… sixteen years?? What the…???)
The very most important part of a strategic discussion is to choose your moment.
It’s the context and the situation and the timing.
Where most people go wrong when they start learning how to pitch or negotiate is here, in the timing and choosing the optimal context. When we act out of panic, desperation, or pessimism, when we’re anxious, we tend to blurt things out at the worst possible time.
This is because
We are thinking about OURSELVES and our feelings and our guesses and our projections
The OTHER PERSON and their perspective and their needs and their likely reaction.
It’s the same with public speaking. When I am anxious, it’s because I’m thinking about myself. What will people think of me?? (who cares) I can relax when I refocus on my audience. I can crush it when I focus on… my message. Not how I look, or who’s watching, but what I am saying and how important that is.
When I believe that my message is valuable, then I increase my motivation to share it.
LOOK OUT! .. is a very important message, as is FIRE! Obviously people need to know if they’re in the path of chaos or if something is on fire. We should never hesitate to call out if we have that information and other people don’t.
Honestly, talking about money with people who are close to us can often be much more important to their long-term survival than open flames or a runaway shopping cart.
We avoid these conversations when we are afraid of conflict, and we are afraid of conflict in a lot of avoidable situations. We’re afraid when we don’t know how the other person will react… yet the only way to get to know this person’s reactions is to get to know them better. That happens through open communication.
We’re also afraid when we’re insecure in our position or when we have something to hide. Yet open and honest communication destroys the reason to hide anything.
We can only find that security in our position by thinking strategically about it, figuring out many approaches to solve our problems and create our desired results.
What we are trying to accomplish when we talk about money is a mutually satisfactory result.
In the case of bad roommates, the result might be “how do we both move out without owing extra money?” In the case of siblings, the result might be “how do we take care of our parents without them having to move in with any of us?” In the case of romantic partners, it should start with “how do we have rational discussions about this so we don’t have to give all our money to a divorce lawyer?”
I’m not even kidding about that. I’m a divorced woman married to a divorced man. Our entire friendship started over lunchtime conversations about our divorces and the cannonball-sized holes they blew through our finances.
The first thing a strategic thinker asks is, How do I mitigate my risk?
That means, what are the obvious pitfalls? Where am I going to get myself into trouble? What do I need to avoid in order for this to work out?
When we’re first reaching out and entering negotiations with someone, about anything but most especially about money, we want to avoid alienating our discussion partner. If we’re going to trust each other in any kind of contractual situation (marriage, lease, mortgage, creation of entire new human), then we have to have a basis for ongoing communication.
That’s also true after a painful, explosive divorce, by the way. Just because you hate each other and never want to see each other again does not excuse either of you from having to fill out financial forms together. If you have kids, then you’re involved in each other’s tax planning for years.
It’s a lot easier to talk about money with someone we like and want to spend time with!
Remember that and try to keep it that way. Give what you wish to receive. Listen attentively and with courtesy and consideration. That is literally the only way that you can earn reciprocal respect.
One little trick that I use is to avoid the word “you” as much as possible when speaking to someone. I try to only use the word “you” when followed by a complimentary observation, such as “you got Exceeds Expectations on your performance review.” There is something inherently accusatory about saying “you” to someone that tends to make people tense up.
What you want to do is to choose your moment carefully. You want to make it low-stakes. Make it easy to agree with you. Start with an easy win.
Be willing to go first. Start with an offer. If you don’t know the person very well, engage with curiosity about something that they would like. What’s important to them? What are their values? Hopefully you already know at least a few things about the values of your spouse, if you’ve already married this person.
As an example, I had some roommates in a big, drafty house. Someone gave them a smart thermostat after upgrading theirs, and none of us really knew how to install it, so it sat on a table for a few months. I knew it would save us money to hook it up. As the child of an airplane mechanic, I believed I could either figure it out, or make a phone call and get some guidance. My pitch was basically, Do you want to try to install that thermostat together? Low stakes, non-accusatory, mutually beneficial outcome. As it turned out, it took five minutes, worked right away, we all cried out in joy and threw our arms in the air, and it saved us hundreds of dollars over the next few months.
Every time you pitch something that is a mutual win, you build trust and rapport. This can quickly build to outright enthusiasm, such that when you say, I have an idea, everyone’s head swivels in your direction. Yes please! More ideas please!
Another important aspect of negotiation is to think through your position before you start talking. You have to know what you want. If your position is, I wish to abdicate and convince someone else to shoulder my responsibilities, then I sincerely hope you’ve spent some time choosing your target.
My starting position was, I am on track and I am a total accountability person. I will share my financial statements and the fundamentals of my strategy. We can make plans together as long as you are willing to be as open as I am.
This is part of how we opened our first major financial planning meeting together. We had started talking *before* we started sharing accounts, before we moved in together, before our money started to mingle. We didn’t blame each other for anything, we didn’t try to throw down ultimatums about each other’s spending, and we didn’t ask each other for anything we weren’t willing to do ourselves.
We succeeded at talking out a ten-year plan, and succeeded at staying on track over those ten years, because we saw each other as equal partners. We also did it without fighting because we had no reason to be angry, hurt, or upset. We reached out to each other in friendship, in an invitation to combine forces, us against the world.
Hey honey, let’s pay off our debts together and save enough to retire, and go on vacation too!
* copy and paste that and send it to your money buddy *
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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